Dear Captain Awkward,
I’m a 25-year-old living at home with my parents; I received a BA in English/Creative Writing about two years ago, and I haven’t done much of anything since then. I’ve been struggling with depression and anxiety (especially social anxiety) for practically my whole life, and a couple months ago I was also diagnosed with Asperger’s. On top of that, I have some physical health problems: tons of food allergies that cause a lot of digestion issues and Fibromyalgia. These all make my daily life pretty difficult. I’ve been seeing a therapist for about a year, but I feel like I haven’t made any progress.
I have very little energy to do anything; I sleep late every day no matter what time I set my alarm clock for, and every day I take naps for two hours or more even if I set an alarm to try and force myself to get up sooner. Most days I stay at home, but on days when I have to leave the house, I come back home later completely exhausted for the rest of the day – sometimes for more than one day. So it’s really difficult for me to find the energy to force myself to do things, not to mention the motivation.
I haven’t written anything since I graduated, and I can’t get myself to draw anything either (I took plenty of drawing classes as well and for a while I thought about starting a webcomic, but I just don’t have the energy or the motivation to keep up with something like that). I also don’t have any social life, because I never made any real friends while I was in college, and I’ve lost contact with all of the friends I had in high school, so I’m pretty socially isolated.
I’ve been working on getting a driver’s license, but it’s slow going. For the past month and a half, I’ve tried doing yoga for about ten minutes a day, but I don’t think it’s made any difference in my health. My primary care doctor doesn’t have any other suggestions.
With all of this, I don’t know if I could handle holding down a job. I can’t imagine ever having the energy to work for five hours or more at a time. My parents want me to try and apply for disability to help pay for my college loans, because they’re paying for them right now and it’s hard on them. But my parents have always been very overprotective, and I worry that they’re not pushing me as hard as they could be to do better. I want to someday be able to live independently, but I’m not sure what kind of job I could work or how I could make that possible.
I guess this is my question: How do you know the difference between being completely unable to do something (like get a job) and being scared or finding it difficult?
I’m so sorry you are dealing with so much exhaustion and physical pain right now. That’s going to affect everything else in your life, so be really nice to yourself as you figure out what “normal” feels like, and don’t underestimate how constant pain and fatigue is getting in the way of your mojo. It matters a lot in terms of what’s happening right now.
You say of your parents “I worry that they’re not pushing me as hard as they could be to do better.” Your parents can support you, financially, logistically, emotionally, and it sounds like they are. That’s nothing to sneeze at, and it’s good to be grateful and do whatever you can to treat them well and develop an adult relationship with them. But the time for your parents pushing you, or otherwise shaping the person you’ll become, is over. Biology has dealt you some shit circumstances, and the global forces of Economics are certainly not helping, but you’re 25. You push you, or no one pushes you.
Do I Even Want To Be Pushed? Toward What? and How? and At What Pace? are questions worth chewing on over the long term.
In the short-term, you can take some baby steps. You can try some things out.
1. Apply for benefits. From what I know, applying and getting approval can be a somewhat long and arduous process in itself, but do the paperwork and get the ball rolling. If something magically improves between now and the time the benefits kick in, great: You’ve got good problems. If not, that money is for you. Use it without shame. I suggest dividing it into three piles: 1) Goes to your parents for your student loans & general upkeep, 2) Smaller amount = Weekly pocket money for you 3) Savings account for you for the future. Do not underestimate the benefit that having a little money of your own can have on your feelings of independence.
2. Ask your doctor for a counseling referral. Even if you didn’t have a history with depression and anxiety, managing chronic pain & exhaustion and the process of rebuilding a life for yourself in your hometown (not to mention the big scary questions of The Future) will be easier with a better sounding board. Edited to add: Sorry, I meant to say ask for a NEW counseling referral. It is okay to break up with your therapist! Script: “I think I would benefit from trying this with someone else. Can you give me a referral?”
3. Seek out other support resources. One that comes to mind: ChronicBabe, a site for young women with chronic illnesses. Two recent posts are: How To Cope With Isolation? and How Do I Increase My Sense of Self-Empowerment? which both sound up your alley. There is a 2000+ member forum of posters. I’m not a regular reader or member, I can’t speak to the community’s culture or promise you’ll like it there, but I know the site owner Jenni a little bit from real life, and she is a friendly, encouraging soul. It’s a starting point.
4. Keep doing yoga. Maybe it won’t ever show dramatic results for your health. But if you are able to handle it physically, I have to think that moving your body for 10 minutes a day every is a good thing. It’s valuable as ritual. It’s valuable as process. It’s valuable as structure. It’s something you can control when everything seems out of control. Try to enjoy those 10 minutes for their own sake.
5. Find out if any childhood friends are still local. It’s completely normal to lose track of high school friends when you go off to college or move away from your hometown. It is not weird to call old friends or find them on social media sites and say, “I’m back in town, are you around? Want to have lunch?”
Keep initial visits short and light and see if the spark of friendship is still there. Do you still have stuff to talk about? Is it fun to spend time with them? And assume nothing about who the person is or what they want now. “She probably won’t want to ________, so I won’t even bother asking” is you filling in your worst fears for another, totally separate person’s free will. You can’t control whether you’ll still like these people, or they’ll like you, or whether they are even around, or whether you will be friends. You can control: seeking them out, issuing an invitation, and seeing what happens.
If you can’t visit in person, a phone call or Skype session catching up with someone can still be pretty great.
6. Study something. There are a jillion free online courses in the world. Lynda.com requires a subscription fee, but has excellent nitty-gritty skill based tutorials in software that could benefit a creative person with some drawing and writing skills like yourself. Look, here’s a free class exploring social issues through comic books that’s happening right now. Here’s a brief compendium of free online writing classes. If you have a laptop you can literally do whatever it is from your bed, at your own pace. Aim for one hour every weekday to start, and schedule that hour at the same time every day. If 30 minutes, or 15 minutes is more manageable, do that instead. A small daily habit and ritual of working is better than a marathon. If you need to stop and sleep, sleep. If you need to take a day off to rest, rest. If you hate it, quit and find a different class.
Three reasons to take a class of some kind right now:
- Structure. You haven’t been writing or drawing in a while, you say. Well a class will have assignments, and feedback, and a community of other people doing those assignments. It will give you a framework for getting started again, without the pressure of having to come up with a project from scratch. It will give you a framework for picking up some marketable skills and a recent portfolio of work for when you are ready to seek out employment. You need to get back into the habit of making & doing something. This is a low-stakes way to start.
- Pleasure. Think about something new. Explore an interest. Pleasure matters.
- Answers. Two questions that really suck when you are ill/unemployed/otherwise at a loss are “So, what do you do?” and “What did you do today, sweetheart?” They are routine, well-meaning, nearly unavoidable, and yet every single time they can shock you with how quickly the abyss of crushing fear and insecurity opens up under your feet when you hear them.“I moved home for a while to deal with an illness, I’m taking classes in ______.” “I worked on my class project today.” Take that, Abyss.
I could suggest more stuff, but honestly, that’s probably enough to chew on for right now. In six months, when you’ve got a little bit of a routine going, here’s what leveling up might look like over the course of a year or so:
- Joining a regular MeetUp or hobby group to meet new people. Get out of your house to do something fun with new people once/month.
- Taking out all the writing & artwork you’ve ever done and sort through it. What themes are there? Can you see moments that you really developed and grew as an artist? Could something be polished and submitted somewhere? If nothing else, remind yourself that you are a maker of things, that you’ve made things. The person who made those things is still right here, with you.
- Start looking at job listings for freelance writing, copyediting, illustration gigs. See what kind of skills & portfolio pieces are required. Target your online study so that you are creating those kinds of pieces. When you feel ready, apply for some work. Do the work.
Don’t worry about all that right now. Apply for benefits. Find a new counselor. Keep doing yoga. Seek out an old friend. Take a class. Work on some aspect of those things a little bit every day. Make a start.